October 05, 2004

The Dogs On Main Street Howl

Dear Bruce Springsteen,

I'm Mitch Berg. I've been a huge fan of yours for about 25 years.

I'm missing your concert tonight. It'll be the first time in my adult life I'll have done that on purpose.

Not that you care, but I figured I'd tell you why.

I've written at length in this space about my appreciation of your music, and of course of the ambiguity of that fandom with my politics.

I'm still a fan - a huge one. The Rising was the best album ever written about 9/11 by a long shot. Darkness on the Edge of Town remains my favorite American rock and roll album, ever, followed closely by The River and Born to Run.

If my life were a movie, there are a lot of parts that would have incidental music by Springsteen. The geeky 16 year old staring out across the prairie wondering about that bigger world out there would have "The Promised Land" in the background; "The dogs on mainstreet howl, 'cuz they understand...", indeed. The 32 year old who first faced the irreparable crumbling of his marriage, but still held out hope, sang "Human Touch" almost like a prayer; there's been no greater homage in rock and roll to the human spirit than "Into the Fire", or to the Holy Spirit than the bridge in "The Rising" ("Spirits above and behind me, faces gone black, eyes burning bright. May their precious love bind me, Lord as I stand before your firey light..."). And no moment (save perhaps the President's talk atop the ruins) better caught the mood of the whole nation in the days after 9/11 than your intimate, acoustic reading of "My City of Ruins":

"With these hands, I pray for the strength, Lord,
I pray for the faith, Lord,
I pray for the hope Lord,
I pray for your love, Lord,
Come on Rise Up..."
I doubt you've had a better moment in your entire career, and I've spent 25 years catalogueing your moments in my mind.

And thanks, honestly, for keeping out of politics as long as you have: you were a refreshingly honest departure from the usual showbiz cant when you tacitly approved of the President's liberation of Afganistan, in the summer of 2002.

Am I disappointed that you've aligned yourself with the snide, preening showbiz "elite" that is running this tour? Sure. And at one time, I'd have been surprised; there was a time when, despite the fact that you've not held a full-time job in your adult life, you seemed to be less isolated from mainstreet America than a lot of pop stars.

Sad to say, I'm not surprised any more. Not that it's a big deal - everyone's entitled to their beliefs, and to associate with anyone they want (although watching you share a stage with Michael friggin' Stipe...words fail), but you've been flirting with going Hollywood for a long time. No shock there.

Here's the big clinker, Bruce, and I hope you bear with me on this one; I, like a lot of your fans, started out like living embodiments (in our own minds, anyway) of characters from one song of yours or another. Somewhere along the way, we grew up; amazingly, so did most of your characters.

And somewhere along that journey, a lot of our politics grew up, too. We realized that platitudes didn't protect our kids; that all thought about foreign policy wasn't concluded in 1972; that, John Kerry's protestations aside, Osama Bin Laden doesn't control Islamofascist terror like some James Bond movie villain, and focusing monomaniacally on erasing him is a palliative chimera for people who really never paid attention during history class, rather than a viable strategy to achieve anything but more episodes of horror at dates to be named later.

I wish I could come to the concert tonight, Bruce. But I can't see giving my money to groups like MoveOn, who want to enshrine a know-nothing, buck-passing, vacuous empty suit as the leader of the free world, or Americans Coming Together, a group that allegedly is abetting voter fraud on a possibly epic scale.

So, no, I won't be giving John Kerry a campaign contribution via your gig tonight. Sorry.

Hope to catch you next time, when you're focusing on what you actually do well.

Til then,

Mitch Berg,

Posted by Mitch at October 5, 2004 03:11 PM | TrackBack

As a (possibly) even bigger Springsteen fan, someone who rode my bike to sit on the doorstep of Down In The Valley in Golden Valley to buy each new album from Darkness on (the previous albums were given to me by my older brother), I can only say:
Bruce, like so many others, has let a visceral dislike of Bush blind him to many of his espoused ideals. Like, say, human rights.
I'll catch the next tour when he's playing, not preaching, for 4 glorious hours!

Posted by: chris at October 5, 2004 05:18 PM

It is through our accrued wisdom and maturity that we realize all our heroes have but feet of clay. The tragedy is when we learn what they sold to buy the shoes.....

The Boss wrote some good stuff but no one will ever be able to listen and contemplate it again with the same abandon, the same authenticity. The sad truth is he just sold his entire body of work down the river to Cambodia for just another phony politician. Where is the integrity??

Alas, he jilted the Jersey girl too.

Posted by: Eracus at October 5, 2004 05:46 PM

Best concert I ever saw (and I'm 45 with a hundred or more shows from all sorts of groups under my belt)... Summer of '89... the Boss (with Clarence) at the Met Center... sat behind the stage... thought the tickets were dogggy but... Bruuuuuce came back there numerous times and played to us... we were real close... seemed like the concert would never end... 3 maybe 4 encores... the crowd was charged... went home with a sore throat. Literally they were the hardest workin' band in show bidness.

NOW... I can't listen to their f---ing music without thinking what a bunch of Bush-hating left-wing liberal weenies they are.

In the immortal words of lovely Laura... SHUT UP AND SING!

Posted by: digidavid at October 5, 2004 08:40 PM

Correction... it was '88.

Posted by: digidavid at October 5, 2004 08:41 PM

Wasn't there an anecdote in his book (circa 1985) about how great it was to be him - a normal guy. T-shirt, blue jeans and normal hair...

He told a story about going to the movies or somewhere, meeting some guy and his date...talking to him, the guy says "want to come home and meet my parents, Bruce?"...

Springsteen, with no real schedule, said sure..why not? Just spending a couple hours with a fan to make his day, and enjoying it himself it seems.

I think that is the Bruce that Mitch was speaking of with this line..."there was a time when, despite the fact that you've not held a full-time job in your adult life, you seemed to be less isolated from mainstreet America than a lot of pop stars."

Agreed. Can't imagine this happening now...and he is less of a star today than he was in the mid-80s..

Posted by: Steve_in_Corona at October 6, 2004 12:32 AM

I was surprised by the historical ignorance of many of the comments by readers about Bruce Springsteen. When did you first get upset about his Leftist activism? This year? How about in the '80's when he was doing concerts to benefit groups like CISPES.. who were in turn supplying resources to Communist guerrilas in El Salvador who purposely used low-velocity detonating mines to maim campesinos in rural El Savaldor... grow up.. or least start reading more...

Posted by: don at October 6, 2004 11:36 AM


Yeah, I remember that - I was upset, but there was at least a level or two of misdirection between the concerts and the guerrillas, IIRC.

He also did benefits for the Christic Institute, which pissed me off because the CI combined moronic politics with blinkered sanctimony - a lousy combination.

Posted by: mitch at October 6, 2004 11:58 AM

Born down in a dead man's town
The first kick I took was when I hit the ground
You end up like a dog that's been beat too much
'Til you spend half your life just covering up

Born in the U.S.A.
Born in the U.S.A.
Born in the U.S.A.
Born in the U.S.A.

I got in a little hometown jam
And so they put a rifle in my hands
Sent me off to Vietnam
To go and kill the yellow man


Come back home to the refinery
Hiring man says "Son if it was up to me"
I go down to see the V.A. man
He said "Son don't you understand"


I had a buddy at Khe Sahn
Fighting off the Viet Cong
They're still there, he's all gone
He had a little girl in Saigon
I got a picture of him in her arms

Down in the shadow of the penitentiary
Out by the gas fires of the refinery
I'm ten years down the road
Nowhere to run, ain't got nowhere to go

I'm a long gone Daddy in the U.S.A.
Born in the U.S.A.
I'm a cool rocking Daddy in the U.S.A.
Born in the U.S.A.


Perhaps it is a matter of perception, but I always thought some of his songs had a socio-political perspective to them.

Posted by: Jason Goray at October 6, 2004 02:53 PM

Of course they did. "Lost in the Flood" (1973) was supposedly anti-Vietnam, although having heard that song for about 25 years now, it's pretty oblique. "Roulette" (1980) was a pretty strident anti-nuclear-power song. "Born in the USA" was a dark-side, human-wreckage-of-patriotism song. "Spare Parts" and "Sinaloa Cowboys" and and "Youngstown" and "Seeds" and most of the "Nebraska" album, not to mention his cover of "War" were all heavily social and/or political.

So it's not like it's a surprise, don't get me wrong. News flash, most artists are lefties. Just bugged that he's actively working for Satan.

Posted by: mitch at October 6, 2004 03:49 PM

Hold on. The whole point of art, whether musical, literatary, or visual, is to oppose the establishment. Picasso delivered "Guernica" but a pacifist he was not. He also painted alot of women but he was no feminist.

What Springsteen has done is sell out to the very establishment from which he draws his material. Hence, the disappointment. The icon of the heartbroken and downtrodden is now on record that if you're heartbroken and downtrodden and happen to disagree with the Democratic Party, you don't count. What used to be universally human is now whatever Bruce decides is politically correct. He's not a political rebel anymore, but a political whore. The magic's in the crapper now. How very sad.

What would Dylan say??

Posted by: Eracus at October 7, 2004 09:35 AM

Laura Ingraham is full of it. She louds protests Bruce or Clooney getting involved in politics... but the second conservative artists/musicians/actors speak out she pats them on the back. More like... "Shut up and sing" unless I agree with you.

Posted by: Carson at October 7, 2004 03:23 PM

Eracus: Very well put.

Carson: Yeah, go figure - supporting people we agree with.

The nerve.

Posted by: mitch at October 7, 2004 03:39 PM

Well some people think less of Laura's hypocrisy.

Posted by: Carson at October 8, 2004 10:36 AM

What's hypocritical?

I support new media. And yet when Fast Eddie Schultz comes on the radio, I yell at him to "shut up" as I switch the station, and if I visit the Daily Kos, I usually click away feeling depressed about my fellow human. And then, when Hugh Hewitt comes on, I turn it up (once "Going Up The Country" is over, anyway), and I read Powerline several times a day. In my blog, I urge readers to do the same.

Hypocritical? Or just different situations?

I make no bones about the fact that I like the music of, say, Springsteen or the Dixie Chicks AND, I dunno, Franky Perez. I listen to both. Springsteen's music has inset liberal messages - Perez' has what appear (unconfirmed) to be modestly conservative ones. When listening to the three talking politics, I'm more likely to tune out Springsteen and Mains (respectfully, of course) than Perez.

Hypocritical? No. Value judgements that depend on the circumstances.

Ingraham tells Barbra Streisand and Alec Baldwin and Natalie Mains to shut up and sing, while she applauds the rare conservative artist's views. It's a value judgement that depends on the circumstances - i.e., respecting an artist's art, but not their political views.

We do it all the time; it's why I read Powerline and Ed, but rarely Oliver Willis or "The Game".

Posted by: mitch at October 8, 2004 01:20 PM

Mitch- it is about more than the idea of personal preference. Laura claims that Hollywood celebs should not make their personal politics part of the media landscape and should keep their views to themselves. Because she does not endorse the same action for conservative celebs, that would indeed mean hypocrisy. I believe that celebs, no matter the preference, should talk about it. If we are going to discuss every other part of their lives (sex, surgery, children) why not their politics?

Posted by: Carson at October 11, 2004 12:03 PM